Which Style of Mask Works Best?  Why so Many Styles?  Which is the Safest?  What are the Numbers N95/PM?

Mask Styles - Why so many?

— By Jim Childers - Owner BZ-USA.com

Why are there so many different mask types and styles?  Which ones work best?  How will I know which one to use?  Which one is the "safest" for me to wear?  

These are all great questions, and ones I hear quite often.  

I must preface this by saying that I am not a doctor nor am I an epidemiologist or a health professional, and I DO NOT dispense medical advice.  Where I quote statistics or scientific facts I will annotate with a hyperlink to my data.

These suggestions and explanations are from my own research and experience.  This is MY OPINION and what I do for my own family.

As always, do your research, investigate and seek out multiple sources to decide what works best for you and your family.  I guess I can answer these questions with a question of my own...  "Why are there so many different styles and types of footwear?"  In other words, why do you own so many different pairs of shoes?  They cover your feet, right?  Why isn't one pair enough?

The above "shoe" example is a direct relationship to the questions on face masks.  One pair of shoes is not enough for your wardrobe or for every use.  

The same can and is said for facial coverings.


Form, Fit & Function:

Form:  This refers to how the mask is designed, the face-masks main defining feature and how and when it is used.  From what material is the face mask made?  

Fit: How tightly or loosely does the mask fit?  Does it move during physical activity? Is it designed to easily be worn for people with beards, large head sizes, etc?  How easy it is to breathe with the mask fitted properly?  Does the mask fit tightly on my face, or is it loose fitting, offering more maneuverability?  The defining characteristics here are face shield wearability and comfort.

Function:  Function refers to how well the mask performs.  What are the masks unique characteristics and certifications (N95, KN95, PM2.5)?  Is the face-mask designed for long term use or a single use disposable surgical mask?  Is the mask vented or filtered? 

As you can see from the following article, one mask, one size or even one type of mask is not enough to service every need.  

EVERY MASK covers your face, encourages social distancing and keeps you from touching your mouth and nose.  EVERY  mask is appropriate for some type of use.  

Those who say otherwise are simply uninformed or are mask-snobs.

The appearance of the deadly Novel (New) Corona virus now known as COVID19 (SARS CoV-2) has thrust the mask industry into the forefront of the news and to the top of peoples minds.  Corona Viruses are a class of virus that include the common cold and many other types of respiratory ailments like SARS and MERS.  This new foe has many people looking as to how to protect their family from infection and transmission of this disease.  

The Novel Wuhan Corona Virus is small.  Incredibly small.  Assuming the virus itself is a sphere, the particle diameter varies between 60-40nm.  How big is that?  Well, the width of a single human hair is comparable to the size of as little as 400 SARS-CoV-2 particles to as many as 1,000 virus particles.  1000 nm (nanometer) = 1 micron (micrometer) =  1/1000 of a mm (millimeter).  That is incredibly small.  

Will any mask stop this virus?  The short answer is NO.  Nothing short of full biohazard suit and respirator will stop an airborne particle that small.  Period.  This was the primary reason why Dr. Fauci and others first stated that masks are not effective against a virus.  He was right - to a certain degree - against an airborne virus of the nanometer size NO MASK would be effective at all.

The bad news is that ALL masks available to the public won't stop the individual particles of the virus.  The good news is, we don't have to.

SARS CoV-2 (COVID19) is not "airborne" which means that the individual virus particles are not free-floating in the air.  They are attached to droplets of sweat, mucus, water, droplets and other fluids which thankfully are much, much larger.  These particles known as respiratory droplets are generally 0.5–12 microns (µm) in diameter.  Thanks to gravity, the droplet size and air density, these respiratory droplets will settle from the air onto a surface usually within 8-14 minutes of being expelled.  This is for a "static indoor environment", so the time would be much different in an outdoor or windy environment.  Add to this the natural antiseptic properties of sunlight (UVC Light) and PH levels, the inactivation of the COVID19 virus is much faster.  

This is where the addition of "social distancing" really plays a key role.  Remember the 8-14 minutes and UVC sunlight effects listed above?  Keeping six feet apart and monitoring your movements greatly aids in the reduction of your chances of being infected.

So in looking for a mask, we are looking for two qualities - ONE: Stopping respiratory droplets from leaving an infected individual's mouth/nose into the atmosphere and TWO: Stopping these droplets from being inhaled into a non-infected individual's mouth/nose from the atmosphere.

With that being said - Many of our masks will perform these functions with ease.  One qualification I do have though for my friends and family.   If you are symptomatic or have had a recent a high risk encounter with a known COVID19 case, it is my learned opinion that you should ONLY WEAR N95/KN95 or at the very least a DISPOSABLE SURGICAL MASK until you are cleared or have passed the fourteen day incubation period and are still asymptomatic.

BZMask Alpha Series Gaiter Tube Style Mask

My first and favorite type of mask is the Gaiter Style Tube Mask we market as our BZAlpha Series.  These face shields are the most versatile and comfortable masks we sell.  There are more than twenty different ways to wear this mask and the BZAlpha offers many unique characteristics that make it an indispensable part of your wardrobe.

Gaiter style tube bandana masks have been around for ages.  Some call them Do Rags, Bandana's, Buff's, and many other names.  One of the many uses of this type of multifunctional headwear is being used as a helmet liner/balaclava for ATV/Motorcycle riding.  These masks greatly reduce the intake of high velocity airborne protein and dust while riding.  They also have a cooling "moisture wicking" effect using natural evaporation with surrounding airflow.

This is my personal go-to mask for daily wear because I have a huge melon sized head and choose to wear a luxuriously thick beard.

BZAlpha's are a great on-the-go mask to wear that is comfortable and will enforce social distancing while keeping you compliant with most facial covering requirements by State and Local regulators.


Form:  Tube style bandana masks are designed to be worn over the head and neck, covering the mouth and nose with a thin layer of lycra infused polyester fabric.  When not being worn as a face mask, you can wear it any other of the 20 ways to wear a BZAlpha including wristband, neckerchief or head scarf.

Fit: These masks are exceptionally breathable, flexible and can be used in many different ways.  This mask and the BZSigma masks are the ONLY ones that will work well if you choose to wear a thick beard.  There is no "seal" to worry about and the mask fits well for most head sizes.

Function: Gaiter style tube masks do not effectively filter small particles (micron size) and are not for use in PM2.5 reduction.  They are not N95/KN95 or PM2.5 rated.  BZAlpha's will filter inhaled and exhaled air to a certain degree and greatly reduce the velocity and direction of exhaled air downward and upward instead of forward from the wearer.  The BZAlpha masks are UV30+ rated which helps protect the wearers head, neck and face from UV radiation.

The BZSigma series of masks are similar to the Alpha Series, but also incorporates a PM2.5 filter in the front of the mask to reduce particulate matter from both inhaled and exhaled air.

A truly multifunctional headwear product, the BZ Sigma Series gaiter style tube bandana face masks can be worn as a face covering, balaclava, headband, sweatband, cap, beanie cap, helmet liner, wristband and many other ways.  

BZMask Sigma Series masks comply with or exceed the requirements of all USA Federal, State and Local "face covering" requirements.

Form:  Tube style bandana masks are designed to be worn over the head and neck, covering the mouth and nose with a thin layer of lycra infused polyester fabric.  When not being worn as a face mask, you can wear it any other of the 20 ways to wear a BZAlpha including wristband, neckerchief or head scarf.

Fit: These masks are exceptionally breathable, flexible and can be used in many different ways.  The BZSigma mask and the BZAlpha masks are the ONLY ones that will work well if you choose to wear a thick beard.  There is no "seal" to worry about and the mask fits well for most head sizes.

Function: BZMask Sigma style tube masks when fitted with the included PM2.5 filter do effectively remove small particulate matter (>2.5micron size) from inhaled air. BZSigma's will filter exhaled air through this PM2.5 filter.  The BZSigma masks are UV30+ rated which helps protect the wearers head, neck and face from UV radiation.

Known Private Company Mask Limitations

Several companies and institutions have implemented limitations on the types of masks they will allow in their facilities.  Most notably among these are ALL US Airlines, Cruise Ships, Disney and Universal Theme Parks & Properties.  Following are the requirements for these properties. This is a primary reason I recommend and carry different types of masks with me.  I carry my daily wear, and a set of 10 disposables to be used in situations like these and where I know I am going to have a significant exposure risk. Check requirements often and know before you go.  Throw a small pack of disposables in your carry on or day pack just in case what you are using does not comply.  This is always a good idea anyways if you are entering an area with an increased exposure risk such as the cabin of an airplane or a venue with many people.

US Airlines Mask Requirements - Many airlines now restrict patrons from wearing any mask with vents (even though ALL of our BZDelta and BZMicro Series masks filter both inhaled and exhaled air), holes, bandanas and plastic face shields.

Disney Property Mask Requirements - At this time, based on guidance from health authorities, neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings. Costume masks are also not considered appropriate and are prohibited from being worn, in alignment with existing rules.

Universal Property Mask Requirements - The following are prohibited masks at Universal Properties in Orlando and LA - Face coverings with exhalation valves, Face coverings that include mesh material or holes of any kind, face coverings that are unable to be secured under your chin, such as bandannas, and face coverings that are not secured with ear loops or secured around your head, 

Best Practices - If you are traveling, going some place new, or going to an area where there is an increased likelihood of a significant exposure event, please carry some disposable masks for each member of the family with you and throw them away after each use.  

BZDelta Series Adult and BZMicro Series Children's Masks

When looking for a form-fit mask, the BZMask Delta Series offers unique design features that set them apart from our competitors.  

Each mask has a flexible nose bridge that helps insure a tight seal on the nose, reducing exhaled air from going up the mask and fogging your glasses.  Exhale vents reduce pressure on the exhaled air thus even further reducing this effect on your glasses.  Even though your mask has a ventilation port, if you are using the included PM2.5 filter, both inhaled and exhaled air is passed through the filter.  Filters are replaceable and should last for 1-3 months of regular use.  You may use the mask with or without the filter if you choose.

Offered in several colors and styles, each mask is 100% cotton and has a ear-loop strap to affix the mask to your face. This strap can be off-loaded to an around the head style strap utilizing one of our Ear-Saver mask tools.

The Micro Series of Kids masks are based on the same design as the Delta Series but designed for smaller heads and styled with colorful patterns.  We also offer a kid-friendly version of our Ear-Saver mask tool in either a unicorn or blue shark pattern.

Form:  The BZDelta Series adult masks and the BZMicro Series kids masks are form-fitting face-hugging masks with an optional PM2.5 filter (More on PM2.5 after this article section).  BZDelta masks are available with or without Exhale Vents (more on this later in the article).  These masks are made from 100% cotton and have a soft cotton layer inside the mask which fits against the skin. 

Fit: These mask types fit snugly around the face covering both the nose and mouth and have a flexible nose bridge which helps seal the exhaled air from fogging your glasses.  (Helps - doesn't Eliminate).

Function: BZDelta and BZMicro masks when fitted with the included PM2.5 filter do effectively remove small particulate matter (>2.5micron size) from inhaled air. These masks will filter both inhaled and exhaled air through this PM2.5 filter (even with an exhale vent).  Both the Delta and Micro Series can be washed by machine (delicate) or hand washed in warm water and mild detergent.  Do not use bleach or iron these masks.  Please air dry and do not wash the filter.

My Mask is Causing My Glasses to Fog Up - What Can I Do?

One of the many great "pains" of constantly wearing a mask is the fact that much of the air we exhale will be necessarily redirected away from going forward to up, down or through the fabric of the mask or vent.  This causes warm air to be pushed up the nose area into the eye sockets causing your glasses to fog up.  There is no way around it.  Many masks "claim" that they are non-fogging, but this is nonsense.  No mask short of a professionally form-fit N95 Medical or Industrial mask will offer this feature.  Fear not - we found an answer!  ZClear makes a line of anti-fogging products that have been used by divers, snorkelers and motorcycle enthusiasts for years to prevent fogging of their lenses.  It works!   ZClear Spritz forms a thin coating on your glasses when used to clean them that provides a barrier to the fogging.  My glasses do not fog for days when I use it.  ZClear is an American based company with an incredible success story.  Order yours today.

The BZMask Optima Series is our latest and best high-end mask we sell.  I am really excited about this product and how well it works, especially living here in the Northwest with our heavy smoke during the fire seasons.  

As a form-fit mask, the BZOptima covers both the nose and mouth by being secured under the chin, over the nose and with a hook-and-loop strap, around the ears and behind the head.  This mask will not move even during the most vigorous exercise or activities.

Designed for ATV/Motorcycle/Cycling and Sports enthusiasts, the BZOptima series provides excellent facial coverage and remarkable air filtration while allowing breathability through the exhale ventilation valves.  These one-way valves greatly reduce exhale pressure and force most if not all exhaled air through the vents up, down or back towards the rear.

Made of a patterned 100% Cotton breathable mesh fabric, air is filtered through an integrated five layer PM2.5 filtration system that removes greater than 98% of all particles greater than 2.5 microns in size.  This mask is our best mask for use during fire season as it removes much of the acrid PM2.5 particulate matter from the air.

The filter and vents are removable for filter replacement and washing of the mask.

Form:  The BZOptima form-fitting face-hugging sport-style mask with an integrated PM2.5 filter provides superior filtration to all of our other products.  These masks are made from 100% cotton and have user-configurable one-way valve exhale vents to direct exhaled air. 

Fit: The BZOptima mask fits snugly around the face covering both the nose and mouth and have a flexible nose bridge which helps seal the exhaled air from fogging your glasses.  (Helps - doesn't Eliminate).  The mask is secured around the ear by a hook-and-loop strap that fastens behind the head.

Function: BZOptima masks with the integrated PM2.5 filter effectively remove 98% or more of small particulate matter (>2.5micron size) from inhaled air. These masks will filter only inhaled air through this PM2.5 filter and forces exhaled air out through the one-way valves of the exhale vents. BZOptima Series can be washed by machine (delicate) or hand washed in warm water and mild detergent AFTER removing the filter and vent assemblies.  Do not use bleach or iron these masks.  Please air dry and do not wash the filter.

NOTE: When used during fire season, please replace the PM2.5 filter often.  This mask will filter all incoming air and removes a substantial amount of particulate matter from the air.  You will see a build-up on the filter.  Do not wash the filter and replace it often under heavy use.

N95/KN95 - P100 - PM2.5  What's in a Number? 

Mysterious numbers, grades, certifications and acronyms got you confused?  We are here to break through the confusion and set you on the right path. This will cover a very brief overview at a very high level to help you understand where the numbers come from and how the certifications work.

First let's talk N95.  Much has been made about "N95 masks" in the news and much of it is sadly misinformation.  N95 is only ONE standard which is certified by the National Institute Of Safety and Health or NIOSH for medical and industrial masks.  This program is administrated through the CDC for both Medical and Industrial grades of these products.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), under authorization of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, provides a testing, approval, and certification program assuring respirators used in the workplace meet the standards of 42 CFR Part 84.  Each manufacturer of these masks must meet rigorous certification to use the NIOSH label on their product or advertising.

There are many levels of certification - so let's break down the numbers - (remember this is a HIGH LEVEL overview, not an in depth technical review).  You will see these numbers and letters on the mask:

The first letter is the oil resistance level of the mask.  N = Not Oil Resistant  R = Oil Resistant  P = Oil Proof

The second part of the certification is how well it filters .3 micron or larger particles. 95 = Filters at least 95%   99 = Filters at least 99% and 100 = Filters 99.97%% of >.3micron (300nm) particles.

So an N95 is a mask that when properly professionally fitted and worn will filter 95% or more of 300nm or larger particles from the air and is not oil resistant.  An R99 mask when properly fitted and worn would filter at least 99% of 300nm or larger particles from the air and is oil resistant.  A P100 mask when properly fitted and worn would filter at least 99.97% of 300nm or larger particles from the air and is impervious to oil.

So what about KN95?   KN95 is the CHINESE GOVERNMENTS certification level that is most similar to N95.  KN95 masks are regulated by the Chinese government under regulation GB2626-2006.  There is no doubt in my mind that the similarity between N95 and KN95 naming convention is on purpose - to create and perpetuate confusion.  The KN95 masks are the most functionally equivalent to the N95 masks certified by NIOSH, but they are NOT NIOSH Certified.  To be certified as a KN95 mask, the Chinese government requires the manufacturer to run a special mask fit test on real humans with = 8% leakage. The N95 mask standard does not require manufacturers to run fit tests.  Fit tests for N95-P100 masks are crucial in a medical environment and much effort is made in these facilities to ensure a proper fit and usage of these masks.  KN95 masks can utilize an ear-loop method for affixing to the face, where there are NO CERTIFIED N95 masks of this type.  All N95's must use a behind the head securing strap loop.

So what about PM2.5?    A PM2.5 filter must filter at least 95% of the PM2.5 particulates from the air.  PM 2.5 pertains to dust, particulates, spores, and pollen in the air. PM2. 5 refers to particles that have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres which is more than 100 times thinner than a human hair and remain suspended and floating longer in the air. Many of these particles are formed as a result of burning fuel, forest fires, and chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere.  You can read our in-depth article on PM2.5 filtration for more information.  PM2.5 is in my opinion the best and most reliable filtration method for reusable masks in the civilian market.  


There is room in every family mask plan for disposable masks and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).  Every plan should include these functional components for unforeseen events, extra family and friends who unexpectedly join your group or in places where your preferred mask type is not allowed.  Another very important place to utilize these types of products is where you know you are going to have an increased chance of a significant exposure event.  

If you are going into a nursing home, a hospital or clinic, I would NOT wear my daily wear mask.  This type of environment represents a potentially significant exposure risk.  

Visiting your doctor or going to the clinic for a blood draw?  Use a disposable mask and throw it away immediately after use.  Then immediately sanitize your hands with soap/water or liquid hand sanitizer.

If you are traveling on a plane, train, bus or otherwise enclosed close-space, this also represents an increased risk of a significant exposure.  

I always carry in my vehicle a bottle of alcohol based hand sanitizer, some gloves and a pack of 10-20 disposable KN95 or Surgical masks just-in-case.  This is the potential health of you and your family we are discussing here.  Don't skimp and don't take chances.  

Buy a 50 pack of adult or a 25 pack of children's masks and put 5-10 in a zip-lock baggie to keep in your purse or glove box in your vehicle.  

Think about where you are going and what the exposure risk level would be.  Decide ahead to take affirmative action to reduce the risk as much as possible.  

As always... Think, Plan and Be Safe.

To Vent or Not to Vent - That is the Question.

Let's talk at the end of this long article here about Exhale Vents.  If you've read everything above, you understand that one type of mask isn't suitable for every situation.  For a every day wear - comfort is key.  If your mask is not comfortable, you aren't going to wear it.  Then you'll be touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes.   

Next thing you know you'll be the awkward social outcast you always thought you were in high school, sitting alone yet again eating your bagged lunch on the steps of the library... but enough about my childhood.

I'm talking here specifically about your daily wear mask. For many, including me, exhaling through five layers of cotton or polyester is a nightmare.  One that wakes me up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe.  Moisture build-up on the inside of the mask, sweating, struggling to exhale (even if it's my own phobia) and the build-up of CO2 inside the mask worried me.  Whether or not the build-up of CO2 inside the mask is a false claim is hotly debated (Reuters fact-checkers say it's "partly false" whatever that means), but for me, inhaling hot exhaled air (even my own) is just not something I want to do all day.

Enter the Exhalation Vent.  This little vent creates a low pressure point in the mask which forces most of the exhaled air through this hole thus reducing the pressure required to exhale.  The vents on our BZDelta and BZMicro series work this way AND still filter the inhaled and exhaled air through the included PM2.5 filter which resides inside a filter pocket at the front of the mask.  

Most masks out there with vents DO NOT FILTER THE EXHALED AIR.  Our BZDelta and BZMicro masks DO filter exhaled air.  This was a conscious choice I made when deciding on my product line.  People who only read the headlines or skim the articles will claim this isn't true and vents don't do any filtering.  Ours do.   As for the mask nazis... I do me - you do you.  Worry about yourself.

The only outlier we have to my exhale filtered rule is the BZOptima Sports Mask.  Designed as a sports mask for ATV/Motorcycle/Cycling/Outside activities, it uses a one-way valve to minimize exhale pressure and does not filter exhaled air through the incorporated five layer PM2.5 filter.   It is our most comfortable mask for exhale.  Period.

I will leave you with this caveat: If you are symptomatic or have had a significant exposure risk event do not wear ANY mask that does not filter exhaled air such as most of our competition or the BZOptima or BZAlpha in a populated environment until you have been cleared or have passed the 14 day incubation period and are asymptomatic.  Use one of your disposables or another mask like our unvented BZDelta's until then.